Saving Private Ryan is an action and war film made in 1998. The ideas of the film were based on real events from World War II. This film is directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Robert Rodat, focusing on the action in Normandy. The general plot of the film, as the title has suggested, is a humanitarian rescue mission led by John Miller who is the captain, played by Tom Hanks to guard and look after the only surviving Ryan’s brother played by Matt Damon. Many critics have commented that the film was spoilt by Spielberg’s propensity for sentimentalism.
The storyline is about Captain Miller and his men who were part of the beachhead assault on a German bunker. This film demonstrates a predominantly emotional storyline which is rarely seen in other war films. In this film, there are no particular heroes. Most of the main characters die at the end which is unconventional. The reason of this is because the writer wants to build up a tragic ending and emotionally engage the audience. Moreover, the flash back in the narrative is also infrequent in this genre. I realised that there are not any colourful frames at all.
This is because the director wanted to create a dramatic atmosphere of how depressing and distressing the war was and how difficult the situation was for the armies and the soldiers. The handheld cameras were used regularly during the battle scenes. This increases the realism of the film, for example, cameras chased individual soldiers using close ups. Therefore, we can feel how horrific the conditions were. The film begins with a black frame and titles linked together with solemn non-diegetic music. The image slowly dissolves into an American flag.
Afterward, a tilt shot is used when the camera moves up from an old man’s legs. He was ahead of his family. (The solemn music is still playing) The camera moved towards him by using a crane shot and the flag appeared again. However, a French flag came up as well therefore the audience knows that they are now in France. A tracking shot then followed him as he was moving to the graves with thousands and thousands of white crosses. The music now gets louder and suddenly the old man breaks down. He fell to his knees and his daughter shouted “Dad! ” this make the film a personal story.
Some mid shots were also used to present the amount of white crosses. This shows the approximate amount of American died in the war and Spielberg wants the audience sympathise the American as America is his country. Finally, the director uses an extreme close up on the old man’s eyes and followed by a sound bridge which is the sound of war and waves. In this section, the director created an unclear characterisation, as an enigma code is set up by him, “Who is this man? ” While the audience is confused, the film flashes back to the 6th of June, 1944 as the U. S army prepares to land at Omaha Beach.
A shot displaying millions of anti-tank devices together with the sound of waves begin this scene. In this scene, handheld shots were used more often. A handheld shot is first used to make the troop carriers on the sea more realistic. Then, it closes in to Tom Hanks’ left hand because it is shaking. A close up is used on Hanks to establish him as the protagonist. Afterward, the camera gradually zooms away to view the soldiers on the troop carrier. They were sick and we can hear some diegetic sound of sick here. A close up is used on Tom Hanks again as he is giving orders.
At the same time, we can then hear diegetic sound of war and fear constantly. This part emphasises the horror of the film. Once they opened the gate of the troop carriers, handheld shots are used to show the chaos of soldiers dying straight away within seconds of leaving the boats. A point of view shot is used to show the German machine gunners shooting the Americans and this generates the sense of violence and gives a sense of power and advantage over those on the beach. Also, a point of view shot from the troop carrier has also been brought in to emphasise the horror.
Surviving soldiers struggle under water and the sound is muted each time the camera sinks below the surface and images of horror come up again like bullets zip through the water and suddenly there is blood all over the sea. This gives the soldiers’ perspective and is very disturbing for the audience. This is quite an innovative and original scene because of the clearly shocking opening sequence and the underwater sequence. The tilt shot has been used again to catch the movements from under to above water. This can bring the audience into the horrible situation and gives us an idea about how hard to get onto the land.
Soldiers under water were captured on film through the diegetic sound such as grenades, bombs, landmines and bullets. Moreover, a lot of handheld shots are used here to make actions more realistic as we ourselves think we are making our way up to the beach. After that, lots of moments of horror are shown and a point of view of the German machine gunner comes up again. I think this shot is repeated because Spielberg wants to emphasise the carnage and slaughter on the beach and the disorientation of soldiers. Also, it depicts the utter slaughter that American face the hopeless nature of their advance.
Finally, this scene ended with some kind of water logging sound and we slowly close up to Tom Hanks’ face with another muted moments of horror. He looks quite confusing and he is a bit shocked. I realise that this scene’s ending was similar to the first scene which is quite different from other war films. Overall, this scene has a lot of sound effects to build up the atmosphere of horror and the sense of war such as piercing sound of bullets, explosions, bullets hitting metals, orders and sounds of motors on the troop carriers. The combination of all these sounds made this film more attractive and thrilling.
In addition, various perspectives give an overview of the carnage. For example, the German perspective suggests the Americans were fighting a lost cause, the mission was immensely difficult and hopeless. In the third scene, Spielberg conveys carnage and horror on the beach from the point of view of the soldiers themselves. The director uses a close up on Tom when he staggered out of the bloody sea, and we witness him stumble and tall. His jerky slow motions and with a shocked expression were alternatively edited with the horrors taking place all around him.
Chaos and carnage were non-stop until the Germans had been exterminated. The sound is muted since when he arrives on the beach and it accompanied by the slow motion. This shows the confusion to the audience. However, the sounds of war such as explosions can still be heard on the soundtrack but they are quiet. Furthermore, a young soldier shouts silently asking Hank for instructions, but the sound is still muted. The audience are forced to lip read what they are saying. Then, the sound suddenly returns to normal and we can hear the soldier’s words clearly and loudly.
In this scene, point of view shots are also used regularly to show the images of horror. The most remarkable images are one of the soldiers looking for his arm and Hanks was pulling a limbless body. They were all vivid. Rolling shots and panning shots are also used more in this scene because it involved much more carnage and Spielberg wants to lead the audience into a sense of futility of senselessness again in the nature of war. Close ups are used on Hanks when he is established as leader, he gives orders and instructions. There are a lot of close ups of Hanks as he is the protagonist.
We are plunged into the horror of D-day alongside Hanks and experience the senseless slaughter through his eyes. This scene also showed how cruel the Americans were, I thought it was only the Germans that were violent but I was wrong. The Americans killed the prisoners even though they had no weapons. Finally, Hank came to his senses and resumed his responsibilities. The audience are given a true picture of the horror of war. Spielberg concluded the opening section by Sergeant Horvath, played by Tom Sizemore collecting soil. That is a symbol of collecting a moment in history as a souvenir.
Then the camera looks up at Horvath using a low angle point of view. This makes him look powerful and heroic because this camera shot can enlarge the size that the person actually is. Moreover, a dramatic sky is added as a backdrop which also raises the authoritative nature of Hovath. The camera then switches to Tom Hanks. An extreme close up is used like the scene at the beginning of the film. This signifies narrative closure. The effects of extreme close ups are very intimate, it makes the audience feel uncomfortable. People always say the eyes are the “windows to the soul” which show true feelings.
In this case, we can see how depressed Hanks is. In this scene, it echoes the close up of Ryan’s eyes at the beginning of the film. Afterward, a crane shot suddenly switches to a scene showing the bloody sea lapping over the dead soldiers with diegetic sound of waves. However, solemn orchestral music is playing in the background as well. This piece of music is like the one we heard when we first see Ryan in the graveyard. The camera eventually ended with closing up to Ryan S’s bag as this signifying narrative closure again. An enigma code is established again.
As this film is called “Saving Private Ryan”, surely it is impossible that Ryan is already dead in the opening sequence. This tempts the audience to check out what is actually going on. To conclude, I think Spielberg has built up an awesome and realistic opening sequence. However, I don’t think the opening sequence has prepared the audience for what followed because at last the camera zoomed up to the dead S. Ryan, which has confused us, the audience as the aim of the film is saving Private Ryan. But the opening battle scene was really realistic and shocking.
Spielberg has broken the convention of traditional war films. He creates a personal and emotional story by flashing back to Ryan’s memory of the war. Moreover, a wide range of soldiers are depicted as cowards as well as typical heroes like Tom Hanks and Tom Sizemore. Overall, I think this film is brilliantly acted because of the ways the actors act and the atmosphere that the director creates. The actors clearly indicate how frightened and fearful they were and this educates and informs the audience that millions of innocent lives were lost unnecessarily.
In this film, Spielberg builds up a complex plot and he sets up a lot of enigma codes to fool and construct confusions the audience. In addition, a lot of different film languages techniques and ground breaking effects are used to create realism. For example, in this opening sequence, handheld shots, point of view shots and close up shots are used regularly. Also, atmosphere of war has been constructed greatly by astonishing sound. The colour of the film is always dark and dull as well, it represents the hopelessness of war.